onsumer demand for highly interactive DVD-Video
titles has taken an aggressive upward turn in recent months. Check
out recent releases from the major studios and you'll know what
I mean. Entire disc sides are being dedicated to "special features."
What seemed cool several months ago now seems limited and unimaginative
by current standards. As directors and other creative players in
the movie business begin to embrace the format as a natural extension
of their work, the production value of DVD-Video titles is rising.
The major motion picture studios now realize that making compelling
DVD-Video releases can dramatically increase sales, and they have
joined in the efforts to improve the quality of their products.
The additional demands for higher degrees of interactivity and production
extras make planning and executing a DVD-Video production more critical
than ever before. Gone are the days of templates and "cookie cutter"
DVDs. The consuming public may be willing to rent simple DVD-Video
titles for a single viewing, but when it comes to purchasing titles,
they'll opt for those that contain large amounts of behind-the-scenes
extras and bonus features.
Clients across a wide spectrum are becoming aware of the potential
of the format and seeking development partners that can push the
limits of DVD-Video and make their productions stand out in an
increasingly crowded marketplace. Whether it's dedicated featurettes,
extensive motion graphics, video transitions, or trivia games,
the "special features" section of any DVD-Video project requires
careful preplanning and a detailed specification document to ensure
a satisfied client and successful project. Different production
companies create different versions of a specification document,
but the essential functionality of this document is always the
same. It serves as a "blueprint" for all members of the development
team including graphic artists, video editors, audio engineers,
compressionists, and authoring specialists. Clients also require
a version of the specification document to communicate among their
associates (and possibly another client) and to commit to schedules
and budgets. Let's examine several approaches to creating a comprehensive
When AIX Media Group first started creating DVD-Video titles
over three years ago, we laid out each project using the tools
that we became familiar with during our years as CD-ROM developers.
Using Adobe Illustrator or a similar program, the producer would
create an "interactive map" of the overall project. The non-linear
nature of computer and DVD-Video players means that the traditional
notion of script had to be modified to accommodate new types of
productions. An easy-to-read interactive map communicates both
a hierarchical flow and the associated inventory of media assets
required to produce the disc. Today, we use a modified version
of these early maps as the "bible" for internal and external coordination.
Color-coding identifies motion graphics versus static menus, video
transitions are designated by arrow-tipped connection lines, and
file names for all media are attached to each node or box placed
in the program flow. The size of a particular interactive map
depends, of course, on the scope of the project, but even the
simplest project should have a map. Most movie titles can be laid
out on an 11" x 17" piece of paper. However, a recently completed
corporate kiosk required a trip to the local Kinkos to print out
a map over 8 x 6 feet!
It may seem that the interactive map is created after you've
secured a specific job, but that may not necessarily be the best
sequence. Some clients have some background in developing interactive
products and may have already drawn a thumbnail version of their
desired interactivity. If a job is an upgrade or revamping of
a previous version done as a CD-ROM or CD-i, there may be an existing
map that you can get your hands on.
An interactive map is not the only document necessary to produce
a compelling DVD-Video title. Obviously, a lengthy voice-over
script could not coexist in the graphic layout described earlier.
Text elements are written and laid out in script format using
a word processing program. Any onscreen text intended for navigation
or menu choices is also organized using text software and grouped
screen-by-screen so that graphic artists never have to touch the
keyboard to type anything. By simply copying and pasting from
the approved text document, errors are kept to a minimum.
A final document type can augment an interactive map and supply
additional information required by specific departments. A spreadsheet
"master asset inventory" is often developed that lists every piece
of media required for a specific job. The columns identify the
item number, filename, media type, functionality, navigational
response, timecode location, hard disk storage location, version
number, approval status, and person working on the item. The production
coordinator updates the master inventory daily. The spreadsheet
is used internally to track the status and location of every asset,
and allows the producer to get a snapshot of the progress of any
Whatever system you adopt to handle complex jobs, be willing
to modify it as you get more experience. The suggestions presented
here have worked very well for titles with a few screens and have
been invaluable for jobs requiring hundreds if not thousands of
media elements. The trick is to spend a lot of time carefully
planning using paper so that you don't have to waste resources
when you're working in more expensive media.
Mark Waldrep (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is the President and CEO of AIX Media Group, an international company
specializing in the innovative use of emerging technologies such
as DVD and the Internet. He is also a professor in the Division
of Performing and Media Arts at the California State University
at Dominguez Hills.
Comments? Email us at email@example.com.